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We're currently having some work done in the back garden and whilst I don't have any particular reason to distrust them I do feel a little uncomfortable around the workmen. The other day I was just popping round to the shop and went out to inform them I'd be out so the house would be locked up (they use our toilet so thought it only fair to inform them).

In response they told me not to worry about locking up, they would keep an eye on the house for me. Now this wasn't what I had in mind but I couldn't see, short of telling them I didn't trust them, how to tell them I felt more comfortable if I had locked up. I felt pretty on edge whilst I was out and didn't do everything I meant to to get back in time. When I got back I heard some pretty quick movement and just spotted one of them going out the back door when I got to the back of the house. I haven't seen anything missing and have no proof he was anywhere but the toilet but my suspicions are even higher now.

How do I lock up whilst they are at the house without offending anyone?

They'll only be here one more day so I'll probably just stay in but I wanted to know for the future and perhaps others faced with the same problem.

Edit: I can confirm that it isn't unusual in the UK to offer hospitality to people working on your property. Tea and access to the toilet are very common.

  • 18
    Funny. I'm always "locking up" around women, and mis-read your question at first. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Feb 27 '18 at 16:53
  • 4
    I would go further: It is almost universal to offer tea/coffee + access to the toilet in the UK. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Feb 28 '18 at 9:13

10 Answers 10

96

Put the key in the lock, lock the door and say to the workmen 'I'll be back in 20 minutes.'

The problem with your current approach is that it gives people the time to react and tell you that you don't have to lock the door. If you don't want people to take an opportunity/option that isn't available, don't offer it. Don't explain where you're going or why, just lock the door and go. Locking a door when you're going out isn't rude, it is a good routine to have for the safety of your possessions.

If you want to be really friendly, you could unlock for them again if they state they need to go now, before you go. Again if you don't want people to take an opportunity/option that isn't available, don't offer it. This, of course, carries the risk you'll end up with the same conundrum you're facing now, that of workmen stating 'oh, you can leave it unlocked'. At least you've made your intention of locking up a lot clearer by locking up and then unlocking again.

Since people are worried about workers confronting you or doing their business in your garden (assuming you have one), and you're asking about next time: if these things worry you too, if you don't want people to take an opportunity/option that isn't available, don't offer it. So, if these things worry you, next time don't offer them the use of your toilet. Personally, I wouldn't worry about it though.

67

Having done some contract work in the US, I can tell you that it's a little unusual to be working on the exterior of a property and have access to interior restrooms. In my experience we were usually expected to use portable toilets, or run to a gas station. Asking a customer to use their restroom, or to have access to the interior for non-work related reasons would be a little odd.

I say it's odd because generally speaking it's dirty work and tracking mud/dust/construction debris into a customer's home or building is kinda frowned upon.

If you're allowing workers into your home to use the restroom, you're extending an unusual courtesy. Given that it's a courtesy and not a given, it's completely reasonable to set limitations that you're comfortable with. Given that it's really unusual to give strangers unsupervised access to your home, locking up before you leave is also completely reasonable.

Also remember that you're a customer in this situation. These workers aren't friends, or guests, they're being paid to do a job. So it's also reasonable to expect a certain amount of customer service etiquette. If you tell them that you're heading to the shops and are going to lock up, and they say that you don't need to, it's completely fine to tell them:

Thanks for offering to keep an eye out, but I'll be locking up.

At that point any push back would be crossing professional boundaries. Basically it would be unprofessional and rude to insist on having access to your home when you've already told them that you'll be locking up.

To offer a little personal experience, I've been on a number of jobs where we had to schedule work around the availability and patience of the customer. They didn't want workers on the property when nobody was there, and as professionals we had to abide by that if we wanted the contract.

  • 4
    I think the other side of this coin is that exterior contractors would also not want to be put into the position of being accused of theft. There are some wackos out there who would think nothing of claiming that something was stolen even if it wasn't. It's far better to just not be in the position where doubt might exist. – NotMe Feb 28 '18 at 2:05
24

It's your house. If you want to lock it, just do it. Don't wait for some randomer's permission.

Yes, it's polite to quickly inform them that you're going to do so, particularly so they can ask to use the loo in that moment if it's almost time. If they offer to "watch the house" for you, you have no way of knowing whether they're just being friendly (almost certainly the case) or whether there are ulterior motives, but it's absolutely trivial to just say "nah, that's alright, thanks" and go about your business.

Anything more than that and you're way overthinking it.

  • 9
    Exactly what I was going to answer. I like it because the "No, that's okay" makes it sound like they were offering to go out of their way to do you a favour and you are politely declining and saving them the effort, rather than it coming across as a rude "I don't trust you alone in my house". Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with being blunt - giving access to your home while you're not there is a huge deal, but this way you keep the relationship professional and civil. – delinear Feb 26 '18 at 17:14
8

I would say that I'm going out and have already locked up. As others have suggested, make it sound as non-negotiable as possible.

If they say, "oh don't worry, we will keep an eye out for you", point out that you trust them, but their main focus is the job of work, not keeping an eye out for unauthorised intruders, and that they would be liable if an intruder stole anything. (Or, as other posts have suggested, that it would invalidate your insurance.)

I generally get my workmen either via word-of-mouth recommendation, or check that they are registered with Check-A-Trade or other similar professional body - that way you can have reasonable confidence that they aren't as dodgy as the ones you describe.

5

I'd simply thank them and still lock it up. If they bring it up again, you can also say

I've locked it. Thanks for keeping an eye out, too.

Just take their offer as an additional benefit on top of the building being locked rather than a replacement for locking it.

It frames the offer to keep an eye out not as a (mutual exclusive) alternative to locking up, but as a service on top. It offers a mind-frame that - if adopted by OP- allows to see this as totally non-offensive and thus alleviate OP of any guilt OP may feel. It also makes this (mis)understanding known to the workers, who then don't have a reason to be offended. Even if they meant for OP to leave the door open, it was obviously a misunderstanding on OPs part.

  • 1
    How does this address the OP's concern of not offending anyone? – sphennings Feb 26 '18 at 2:13
  • Can you edit that into your answer? – sphennings Feb 26 '18 at 20:25
4

Well it is true that if any theft happened while they were around, they would be first to be blamed and searched, and it is also true that intruders would be deterred by their presence.

However that is not the concern. What you ought to be protecting is your privacy and for numerous reasons. One is the obvious, direct protection of your own personal details and affairs. Another is protecting your property from compromise, such as identity theft, information about layout for future burglaries etc..

It should go without saying that your home is private. Simply and firmly state that you are locking up and back shortly. It should be declared in a stentorian manner that does not invite dispute. The workmen are there at your behest, not at your invitation as though it was a tea party in your back garden.

For additional security, install motion capture software on home computers.

2

I agree with some of the posts above. It's your house, you have the right and obligation to do what you want. If you feel unsafe with strangers around, then do whatever makes you feel more comfortable.

They are working for you, they are not your friends. You should be respectful and polite (if you want to), but in the end, they are not your friends. They don't see you as a friend either, they just want to finish up their job and move on.

If you really don't trust them and you need to step out, you can do:

1) Tell them you'll be back in 10 minutes, even if you'll be gone longer.
2) Just leave and don't tell them you've gone. That way, they won't feel comfortable if they're not 100% sure you're not there.

If you want to do the direct way (which I recommend), just be firm and respectful. If you feel you're coming off as a little pushy, that's fine. Better be safe than sorry. We're men, we're a little crude :) Good luck!

2

You can very simply say that it's an insurance issue. In the UK you will probably find that your insurance company will not cover you if there is no sign of forced entry. That was certainly the case when we had work done.

They should not need access for the loo. Any company worth its salt will provide facilities for its employees.

2

Having recently had some contractors working in our house for an extended time I can say:

  • If they were only working on the outside of the house, we would typically not be there, and would just leave the house locked.
  • If they needed to work inside the house, one of us would stay home to let them in, and be around in case they needed anything.
  • When they were working inside we would let them use one of our bathrooms, as it was convenient for them and there was no public restroom anywhere close by. (the job was not really big enough for them to rent a portable toilet). We certainly didn't have to do this, but I didn't see any reason not to.
  • At no time did they ever assume or assert that it would be ok for them to have free run of the house when we were not there. In fact, they rescheduled several times for us on occasions when we couldn't stay home for them.

Given all this, I would say you are definitely within your rights to lock up when you need to leave, and it's pushy/inappropriate for the workmen to ask you to do otherwise. They probably just want it open for their convenience, but if you don't have a long-standing trust with them, they really should not even ask.

I can also say that whether accidental or intentional, on a few occasions we found that the contractors had left exterior doors unlocked/open after they had left, so I would make a habit of checking all your doors and windows each time they have been there. It was most likely just a simple mistake, but it is also not unheard of for workmen to 'case' a house and then leave a way open for someone else who can come around at a later time and easily rob the place.

1

I am going to disagree with most of the other correspondents.

While it is your house, it is their workplace. How would you feel if your boss just suddenly announced that you were no longer allowed to use the workplace toilets?

Clearly the workers are human and humans produce waste. It seems this can be handled in one of four ways:

  1. The workers use your toilet.
  2. The workers bring their own toilet.
  3. The workers take extended toilet breaks.
  4. The workers soil your garden.

It would seem that the 2nd option is preferred. However, you guys implicitly agreed upon the 1st option. But now you are renegging on that, so you are going to have to accept that the 3rd of 4th option will be utilized.

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